Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Morning Discovery

I found this female* Lined Seahorse (Hippocampus Erectus) during my beach walk this morning. Relatively poor swimmers, this specialized species of fish is usually attached to seagrass or soft coral.

However, the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico was recently churned up by passing storms, so the sand was littered with detritus. Sadly, this girl was one of the casualties.

Thankfully, this species has a wide distribution, from Nova Scotia to Brazil, so one local disturbance shouldn’t negatively impact the population. Well-camouflaged, predation is not a major worry (also they are quite bony and therefore, not a favored food). The main threats to the species are bottom trawling, seagrass bed destruction, and usage in Chinese medicine.

My walk coincided with slack water so the serene gulf belied the previous tumult…

*Male seahorses have a brood pouch which extends past the lower dorsal fin.

Odd Bird

During the regular afternoon frenzy at my front bird feeder yesterday I noticed a rather unusual sight. There were a dozen parakeets perched on the top power line above the feeder, that part is not the least bit unusual.

One, however, was hanging upside down on the bottom line. The birds above seemed to be chattering quietly about the weirdo below them. To quote a fun little ditty from Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the others…”

Curiosity piqued, I snapped a few quick pictures with my phone before the flock flew away. Good thing I did because they were an entirely new species of bird for me! Meet the Blue-crowned Parakeet (Thectocercus acuticaudatus), another naturalized avian here in Florida.

While these small green parrots are known to be good “talkers” they are nowhere near as loud as the Nanday Parakeets that typically frequent my yard. I do hope these handsome birds return, I’d love to get some better photos of them!

Ssssupervisor…

I was a bit startled yesterday afternoon while puttering out in my front yard. Not sure what gave it away but something made me look up towards the top of my hedges.

I have seen this Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) a couple times in my yard before (but on the ground). In a manner befitting its name, each time it zipped into the thick tangle of this hedge. Though I know most snakes can climb trees I was a bit taken aback to see this one at eye level.

Basking in the warm sunshine, the snake allowed me a couple photos before it disappeared into the foliage. I’m delighted that this nonvenomous snake resides in my yard, as the species excels at gobbling insects and small creatures (like lizards and mice).

Carambola

My neighbors have a heavily-laden Star Fruit (Averrhoa carambola) tree. Luckily for me, they generously giveaway the extras on a little table out by the curb. As you know, I’m not one to pass up something for free, especially when it’s so delicious!

If you haven’t tried one yet, I highly recommend doing so (if you can find them – perhaps look at an Asian market). The unripe fruit still has a greenish tint to it and makes an excellent garnish for cocktails or entrees (though it will be quite tart and lemony). Fully ripened, the fruit has the texture of a juicy pear (yes, you eat the skin) and tastes like a cross between a banana and a mild apple.

Unfortunately, the Carambola resembles a banana in that it has a relatively short shelf life, once brown spots appear on the fruit it becomes a flavorless mass of goo.

I did just find a couple Star Fruit recipes that sound delightful. Since their tree still has loads of fruit they’ll be worth a try, I’ll keep you posted.

Feeder Antics

I recently added another bird feeder to my yard. This one I placed up front near a bird bath with a small solar fountain. The new addition was discovered immediately by my neighborhood birds (unlike the one in the backyard which took them several months to find).

While I have several species that frequent the feeder (Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, American Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Eurasian Starling) all of them cede the space when the flock of Nanday Parakeets (Aratinga nenday) arrive.

I view their afternoon arrival with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I enjoy watching these noisy and colorful, medium-sized parrots. On the other, I know my feeders will soon be empty.

Originally from central South America, the birds were brought to Florida for the pet trade. The first ones were noted living outside in St. Petersburg in 1969. They have since established breeding colonies and are now found across the south-central part of the state. Though the 1992 Wild Bird Act prohibits importation of this tropical species (along with many others) its reproductive success means that it will remain one of Florida’s 195 non-native bird species for many years to come.

A Wonderful Bird…

Brown Pelican, Oceanside, California December 2015

Two years ago this month the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) became the official bird of St. Petersburg, Florida. The action was long overdue, since the large avian had been used as a mascot for the city for close to 100 years.

I am fortunate to be able to watch their aerial stunts year-round from my favorite perch at nearby John’s Pass (the channel between the Gulf of Mexico and Boca Ciega Bay).

I see their larger cousins, American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) less often as they are true snowbirds, spending their winters on our balmy barrier islands before returning north in the Spring.

The adult males are especially eye-catching this time of year as breeding season begins. I need to take my camera out and try to get some good shots of them, until then this older photo I took in California will suffice.

Without fail, every time I see them I think of this limerick:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,

His bill will hold more than his belican,

He can take in his beak,

Enough food for a week,

But I’m damned if I see how the helican!

Dixon Lanier Merritt

Sweet Reminder

I grew up in the Sonoran Desert surrounded by the fragrant puffballs of the Sweet Acacia (Vachellia farnesiana). Not only do bees and butterflies love the flowers but birds favor the thorny, tangled branches for nesting, and lots of animals dine on the seed pods.

As you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this small tree is native here as well. The one I planted in my yard this past spring just started blooming and while not as showy as some of the other plants around here, it certainly makes me smile.

Lucky Nut?

I came across this Lucky Nut,¬†Thevetia peruviana, while touring the holiday light display at the Florida Botanical Gardens earlier this week. While I was certainly intrigued by the large nut’s unique shape, I could find no information about what makes it lucky.

In fact, to use a quote from my all-time favorite movie, The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” To the best of my knowledge, every part of this oleander relative is completely unlucky since it is toxic.

Moonflower

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is a unique member of the morning glory family in that it blooms at night. The white flowers are about 5 inches across and they almost seem to glow in the moonlight. That large size combined with their appealing aroma helps attract nocturnal pollinators.

Native to Florida the vine also sports showy, heart-shaped leaves. I’d love to have one in my yard but I don’t have anywhere for it to grow, they need support and can reach 40′ in length. The flower I photographed was on a vine that was at least that long since it had grown up and over a telephone pole. What a beaut!

Sea Grapes

Discovered this chunk of green alga on my beach a couple weeks back. Its diminutive size and odd shapes warranted a photo, if only so I could identify it. That process took longer than it should have but, as usual, I learned something new.

Meet the Sea Grape (Caulerpa racemosa), an edible seaweed that favors shallow seas around the world. In some areas it is considered invasive, though this is the first time I’ve encountered it around here.

Since they are nutrient rich I suppose we should all eat up!